Fall 2015 Articles, Flash Polls, Race, Social Issues

How Important is Race? The Answer Depends on Whom You Ask

pictureIn the last year, racial issues have come to dominate national news stories. From protests against police violence to college practices, racial issues have consistently drawn extensive news coverage. Surveys of NCSU undergraduates have found stark racial differences in the amount of attention paid to these incidents, with black students reporting far greater attention than whites.

Our recent survey of NCSU undergraduates also asked them to rank the importance of race relations and to say whether they thought race relations were a problem on campus. As a point of comparison, we also asked students about the importance of immigration and terrorism, and if they thought crime was a problem on campus. Opinions about these matters vary greatly by race. Differences of opinion also correlated strongly with how much attention students said they paid to news about the protests at the University of Missouri, which is also, obviously, related to respondents’ race.

When we asked students about the importance of each issue, they could answer by saying it was “not that important,” “one among many important issues,” or “a critical issue.” White, black and other non-white students ranked different issues as the most critical one. For white students, terrorism ranked highest. Immigration was deemed most critical for other non-white students, while black students identified race relations.


These findings correlate with our data regarding which groups paid attention to news about the University of Missouri – the ones which viewed it as a more critical issue paid more attention.

The opinion gap between the importance of racial issues between white students and black students, both on campus and in general, was 50% for whether race was said to be a critical issue. For, “other, non-whites,” they landed in the middle, roughly 25% away from both black and white students.

When asking about crime on campus, black students were more likely to view crime as a more significant problem. However, in this case white respondents fell into the middle, with other non-whites ranking it lower.crimejaorracemajor

These data indicate that students’ race is central to how they view the importance of various issues. Given that nearly half of all non-white students state that they have experienced some form of prejudice on campus, these findings make sense. The real question for our future polling is to learn whether students of different backgrounds can at least understand the perspectives of students not like them, even if they don’t agree with them.


The survey took place over the internet Nov 18-19, 2015. We drew a random sample of 3,500 undergraduate students, and supplemented that with a random sample of 538 additional black students. We over-sampled black students to make our comparisons with white students’ answers more reliable. Thus, 4,038 State students were invited to take the survey, and 1038 completed it, resulting in a 26% response rate.

Although self-ideintifed black students are 7% of the undergraduate student body, they were 21% of our sample. When we describe what a representative sample of what all State students think, we apply a post-stratification weight to adjust for imbalance of respondents’ race. For the sample as a whole, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.98%. The sampling error is larger for estimates of sub-groups’ opinions, or when we split the sample to ask slightly different version of a question.

In addition to sampling error, other forms of error occur in surveys, such as confusion about question wording or the order of questions, but these are not precisely quantifiable. We do not apply post-stratification sample weights to adjust for possible demographic imbalances in our sample because our measured demographics closely approximate the known student parameters for age, year in school, and gender. Weighting the data would be unlikely to change the reported results by more than 1-2% percentage points for any question results.

Click here to see the full set of results: Toplines Nov Race Poll

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